|JOHN MCLEOD Piano Music. Twelve Preludes/Hebridean Dances/Four Impromptus/Piano Sonatas 1/3 Murray McLachlan, piano. Redbook Records RBCD002||
This present disc adds usefully to the available recorded music of this Aberdeen-born composer for although the first Piano Sonata has already been recorded, the Preludes are particularly welcome. Although they take a mere fifteen minutes or so in performance, they occupy an important place in McLeod’s output. It is difficult to describe the music, whose apparent freedom of construction really follows a very strict pattern. These twelve aphoristic miniatures are organised as cogently as their classical predecessors, yet in a wholly original way - beginning in the first with a move from the key of C to F sharp, then progressively discarding accidentals from the key signature to arrive ultimately in F and G before the final Prelude utilises all the key centres as a kind of tone-row. Within this concept McLeod expresses his ideas with considerable freedom.
From the muscular, challenging opening various characteristic figures appear - one of the most conspicuous a dark octave pedal (almost always preceded by its appoggiatura) which serves here (and in both Sonatas also) as a kind of emphatic tonal anchor between whose points (like fence posts) in the third Prelude a chorale-like melody is strung. This fingerprint occurs throughout his piano writing. There are moments of dark percussive energy, contrasted with some eloquent contrapuntal movement - and the set culminates in the twelfth, which is a reflective Epilogue.
The first of the Sonatas, written in 1978 and is in one movement. Here again this characteristic fingerprint dominates the opening bars. A Gallic influence, derived recognisably from his teacher Lennox Berkeley, is noticeable in the melodic line over reiterated or alternating chords, and also in the counterpoint. The Sonata culminates in a fugal toccata figure whose driving energy piles up to a kind of Mephistophelian conclusion. Between the two Sonatas there is light relief in the Hebridean Dances. These delightful bagatelles use Gaelic melodies with a kind of virtuosic abandon - from the port-a-beul of ‘Dance to your Shadow’ (which ends in an appropriately spectral coda), to the lovely ‘Harp of Dunvegan’ set in the high register and decorated with pibroch-like ornament.
The ‘Barra Love Lilt’ with its urgent passion, sounds more like a ‘flyting’ than a love song - and runs without a break into the rather tipsy antics of the cockle-gatherer. In contrast the Four Impromptus are darker material, owing again something to Lennox Berkeley. They are improvisatory in nature, exposing moments of almost motoristic vigour contrasting with moments of some warmth. In both second and third these moments are expressed in reflective melodic movement over a chordal bass, the third having a particularly barcarolle-like beauty which, without a pause, follows from the final section of the second. The third Sonata, the major work on the recording, dates from 1995 and was commissioned by Aberdeen University. A powerful work, played without a break, the Sonata demonstrates the martellato pedal notes (again preceded with the appoggiatura accent) that are characteristic of his piano writing. These have an almost obsessive quality in the open-ing sections, but the intensity gives way to a central passage introduced by bell-like chords which makes use of a quotation from the Dona Nobis Pacem from Carver’s Missa l’Homme Armé. Here all is still, says the pro-gramme note, ‘as though a far distant past is being recalled’ lending the work ‘a perspective of timelessness.’ This point of rest is the centre of the work followed by much energetic development and is recalled in the final section where all resolves onto a unison A flat.
The pianist Murray McLachlan has a virtuosic technique which, allied to a penetrating musical and poetic conception of the many and varied works he tackles - a wide spectrum indeed - makes his performances totally convincing. This disc is no exception.
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